Banks High graduate plans college, mechanics career

Series continues

Today we publish the second in a series of stories about teenage members of an often-overlooked group with an amazing achievement of their own: “first generation” graduates from the Class of 2014.

These high school seniors — many of whom will attend in-state colleges and universities — are blazing a trail by embarking on a higher education. All of them faced the familiar challenges presented to their classmates, from slipping grades to rising tuition, but have the extra burden of being the first in their families to extend their formal education beyond high school — and in some cases the first to graduate from high school.

Leading up to commencement weekend, June 5 to 7, we’ll feature students from one local high school per week. Last week we focused on Forest Grove High. Today we highlight Banks, and next week we'll showcase Gaston.

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Jorge Garcia-Velazquez of Banks High School isnt headed to college right away. He plans to work this fall and into next year before committing to a higher education and a possible career as a diesel mechanic.Like many of his fellow Banks High School seniors, Jorge Garcia-Velazquez plans to go to college after he graduates this spring.

Unlike many, he's going to take the slow road to get there. According to his eight-year plan, Jorge will work a year or two, enroll at Portland Community College, transfer to a four-year school and finally finish his bachelor's degree by the time he's 26.

That would make him not only the first in his family to earn a high-school diploma but also the first to graduate from college — by which time he also plans to own a home and have a good job.

Meanwhile, “I need to make money to help out,” the 18-year-old said recently, adding that his parents — Elvia Velazquez and Jesus Garcia — work hard, but that the family is still “on the poor side of the middle class.”

After commencement June 6, Jorge will work with his father in the construction trade, doing home remodels and framing.

His twin sisters are in eighth grade at Banks Middle School. Jorge wants to set an example of hard work and perseverance for them.

“When I go to college I want to be 100 percent about it, and I want my sisters to see that," said the soft-spoken, dark-haired teenager.

Jorge acknowledges that the huge expense of a higher education lingers in the back of his mind — it's been that way since he was pulling a 2.4 grade-point average as a freshman at BHS. With only a few weeks until graduation, he now has a 3.5 GPA, making the honor roll last semester.

“I wanted to do my best and see where that would get me,” noted Jorge, whose father did not go beyond sixth grade due to work demands in Mexico, his home country. His mother, now a crew manager at a Washington County landscaping company, has only a third-grade education.

Born in Lodi, Calif., Jorge came to Oregon with his parents as an infant in 1996. They settled in Hillsboro and moved to Banks when Jorge was in fourth grade.

One of only a handful of Latino students at Banks High, Jorge stands out because of his desire to do well in school and lend a hand to others.

“He’s very reserved and quiet, but I’ve watched him come out of his shell,” said counselor Tim Hardie, who has known Jorge since he was in sixth grade. “He’s an outstanding citizen here at Banks — a rock-solid student.”

A young man with a strong sense of loyalty and responsibility, Jorge said he became concerned in junior high when he realized his parents were having financial struggles. "I tried to do the best I could in school so they wouldn’t have to worry about me,” he said.

Once he got to high school, instead of experimenting with new and sometimes risky activities like many teens do, Jorge buckled down in his studies, pulling As and Bs in all his classes. After landing his driver's license, he picked up side jobs, such as landscaping cleanup and helping his dad at construction sites.

“I guess I’ve been gaining in maturity,” he said with a self-deprecating smile.

Although he hasn’t yet applied for college, Jorge has no fewer than four ideas for an eventual career. He’d like to be a parole officer, a firefighter, a welder or a diesel mechanic — and that last one is holding his attention for now.

“I've always liked to tinker, and I really like working on cars,” said Jorge, who figures he’ll study mechanics at PCC. But no matter which road he takes, he wants it to lead to a life with fewer trials than his parents had to face.

“My dad’s plan was to come to the U.S. for eight months and then go back to Mexico,” Jorge said softly. “He wanted to see what it was like here.” Instead, Jesus has been in Oregon nearly 20 years, earning a tidy if not lucrative living for his family of five.

“I know he wants to see me do better in my future,” noted Jorge.

A soccer player his sophomore and junior years, Jorge only made it to practice every other day because his mom depended on him to pick her up from work in his 1996 Bronco, a vehicle he bought himself.

Looking back, Jorge recognizes his own metamorphosis from mediocre student to shining star. He's worked hard to bring his grades up for himself and for the esteem of his family.

“When you’re a freshman, you really don’t think about school all that much — you just want to hang out with your friends,” he said. “Now it’s different. I’ve developed a focus.”

His favorite subject is English, because he enjoys expressing himself through writing. "We do research projects, and I love the writing prompts.”

When he walks across the stage and grabs his diploma as part of the 150-member Class of 2014, Jorge figures he’ll feel “very proud,” but no more than his parents, who’ll be in the audience cheering him on.

“I think it’ll make them proud of raising a good son,” he said.